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Supercar vs Hypercar: The Definitive Guide

Often on these pages, and indeed around the world of motoring, we use words like “sports car,” “supercar,” “hypercar,” and the like. But what makes a supercar different from a sports car? What makes a hypercar, well, a hypercar? These are the important questions to ask when talking about high performance cars, especially as we are already in the age of extreme electric performance and using hybrids to increase performance of otherwise ordinary cars.

Normal cars, if that is an appropriate term, are what you and I typically drive. These are your Toyota Camry models, the Ford Focus and Fiesta, the Honda Civic, the Kia Forte, and the like. Not exactly performance cars, they are there to move people from point A to point B, and with a few hot hatches and sporty versions of some, do so with a little fun along the way. These are the vehicles that also can be SUVs, CUVs, and the like, and vans and minivans, and basically anything that is designed with an eye towards gas mileage and affordability.

The Difference Between A Sports Car & A Supercar

Sports Car

One rung above a normal car is a sports car. The generally accepted definition of one of these is a car that can still do all the functions a normal car needs to, but is designed with an eye towards handling, performance, and the actual enjoyment of the drive. These don’t have to be expensive cars either, as one of the greatest sports cars ever made, the Mazda MX-5, often goes for under $30,000.

2020 Nissan GT-R Nismo
2020 Nissan GT-R Nismo.A superb sports car, but it doesn’t tick all the right boxes to make it into a supercar. Image via: SuperCars.

At the very top of the sports car range, you will find favorites like the Porsche 911 Turbo, the BMW M3 and M4, the Nissan GT-R, and the like. While they might be expensive to the average layman, these are cars that have been honed to a razor sharp edge, to give the best bang for the buck with a little bit of badge pedigree thrown in. It is extremely rare that you will see a sports car break through $150,000, but it is possible with options packages or limited releases, such as the 2023 Porsche 911 Sport Classic.

Supercar

This is where the waters get a little bit murky, a little clouded as the defining line between a high end sports car and an entry level supercar is very thin. Before writing this article, I searched extensively and found about 20 different definitions, however there are three things that all of them shared. By focusing on those three items, if a car has all three, it can realistically be called a supercar.

Those three items are:

  1. A supercar must have no other use apart from the thrill of the drive. This is why the Porsche 911 is considered a sports car, even in Turbo form, because while it is an amazing car to drive, it is also capable of doing everyday tasks. Drive into a parking lot and go over a speed bump in a 911, no worries. Go into a parking lot in a Ferrari, however, and you approach each speed bump with clenched teeth.
  2. A supercar must be exotic. While the BMW M3 mentioned before is a superb example of a front engine, rear-wheel-drive sports car, it isn’t a supercar. There is nothing about it that absolutely screams that it’s a high performance machine apart from some badges, a hood bulge, and extra exhaust pipes. Put a BMW M3 next to a Ferrari 488, and ask anyone off the street which one is the supercar, and 9 times out of 10, people would point at the Ferrari, because it just oozes exotic performance and speed, even standing still.
  3. A supercar must be capable of ridiculously high speed. Probably the easiest part of the definition to achieve, many top tier sports cars, such as the Nissan GT-R, Porsche 911 Turbo, and the like are capable of over 170 MPH with top speeds approaching 190. Compare that, however, to a Lamborghini Aventador SV, which has a top speed approaching 220 MPH, or the Ferrari 488 GTB and its top speed of 224 MPH.

If you have a car that marries all three of those items together, you can safely call it a supercar. The speed measurement is the only one that has really shifted throughout the years, as the first generally accepted supercar, the Lamborghini Miura, had an at the time ridiculous top speed of 171 MPH, but it was a pure machine designed only to be driven, and driven fast. It was also made up of new materials and composites, and even today, just looking at one gets the heart pumping a little bit faster, the lower lip quivering, the mind focusing in on the absolutely perfect curves and lines.

1971 Lamborghini Miura SV.
The first supercar, the Lamborghini Miura. Designed only for the joy of driving it, with a huge top speed and looks that still drops jaws today. Image via SuperCars.

Others might argue that one thing missing from the list is that a supercar needs to have a racing or performance pedigree, and they do have a fair argument there. Most, if not all, supercar manufacturers have some version of one of their cars somewhere on a track in the world, and some of the biggest names make up the GT3 and GTE categories in endurance racing. The reason I didn’t include it, however, is that there are some manufacturers out there that don’t have a history of performance and are not emerging from a racing team.

The perfect example of that is Pagani. Horacio Pagani himself has a history of designing fast cars because of his time at Lamborghini, but the Zonda, the only car to emerge from Pagani that can be considered lower than a Hypercar, is only and always about the drive, is built out of some of the most exotic materials and looks dangerously fast, and can break through 200 MPH. If Koenigsegg made a supercar, it would also be placed here, but they are the perfect example of the next rung up the ladder…

What Separates A Hypercar From A Supercar?

The term “hypercar” started to get tossed around in the motoring vernacular in the early to mid 2000’s, as there was a certain car with 1,001 HP, 16 cylinders, and bearing a badge that screamed pedigree coming out. The Bugatti Veyron 16/4 is what many people consider to be the first hypercar, and while it is definitely a shining example of one, my argument would be that the McLaren F1 from 1993 was the prototype hypercar, the true first-of-its-kind.

McLaren F1 XP4 prototype
What I consider to be the first real hypercar, the McLaren F1. Seen here is the second to last prototype, XP4, which was one of two F1’s that were used to confirm the car’s exceptional top speed of over 240 MPH. Image via SuperCars.

So, to justify that argument, what makes a hypercar “hyper?” After thorough research, again looking at multiple definitions, there are four items that everyone included in their lists of characteristics to make a hypercar:

  1. Price beyond $1 million. Hypercars are not meant to be for the common man, nor even the wealthy day trader. The agreed upon number in a lot of lists was that the base price of a hypercar must be above $1 million US dollars in the year of its original release. Some hypercars, especially custom one-offs by the likes of Bugatti and Ferrari, are in the double digit millions, but those prices are never revealed to the public.
  2. Exceptional power to weight. The reason the McLaren F1 was so damned fast was because it was extremely light. Despite being a wide car, with a massive BMW V12 in the back, it weighed 2,500 lbs. Consider that a Ford Fiesta weighs 2,740 lbs, and you begin to see why it was the fastest car in the world for over 12 years. While this number varied between the lists I found, it seems that a median power-to-weight ratio is anything that is 550 HP/ton or greater.
  3. Extremely limited production. The reason that a McLaren F1 recently set an auction record at $20.47 million in 2021 is that there are only 63 of the production version out there. There are even fewer GTR’s and Longtails, but those change hands privately, if at all. The same goes for the Bugatti Veyron, of which only 900 exist across the entire model range. For this definition, almost everyone that has made a list agreed that 1,000 units was the breakpoint, although many hypercar production numbers don’t even begin to approach that, such as the Lotus Evija being limited to 130.
  4. Being the cutting edge of progress when released. There was nothing like the McLaren F1 before it was released, and it pushed the absolute bleeding edge of what a car could be made out of in 1993. The Bugatti Veyron was a landmark hypercar that was the first production car to have over 1,000 HP. The Holy Trinity of Hypercars, the Porsche 918 Spyder, the Ferrari LaFerrari, and the McLaren P1, all used a technology designed to save fuel, namely hybrid power, and flipped it around to give the cars more performance. The Rimac Navara, the Lotus Evija, and the Pinninfarina Battista are all fully electric and all are using the latest battery and motor technology to push out 1,400 HP or more through all four wheels.

As said before, this is nothing to take away from extremely competent, high-performance supercars like the Lamborghini Aventador Ultimae or the Ferrari SF90 Stradale, but neither of those cars meet all four of the listed requirements. Neither the Ultimae or SF90 cost over $1 million, the Ultimae is not the cutting edge of progress despite being extremely limited, and the SF90 is actually rather heavy at 3,500 lbs curb weight, despite being one of the most advanced supercars ever made.

Ferrari SF90 Stradale
The Ferrari SF90 Stradale is an amazing technological achievement and one of the best supercars out there, but it is not a hypercar. Image via SuperCars.

There are a few manufacturers out there now that only make hypercars. Pagani is a perfect example, as after the superb run of the Zonda, the absolutely bonkers Huayra followed. It is ridiculously fast, extremely light, and is made of an entirely new form of carbon fiber known as carbo-tanium, which is carbon fiber with titanium filaments woven into it by hand. There are only five people in the world trusted by Horacio Pagani to do that weaving, making it very exclusive.

Pagani Huayra
A true hypercar, the Pagani Huayra. Image Via: SuperCars.

Another manufacturer dedicated only and entirely to hypercars is Koenigsegg. The Swedish manufacturer has revolutionized engine performance with pretty much every car they’ve ever made, such as hydraulically actuated valves as cams couldn’t keep up with the revolutions of the engine in the Regera. Another example of their ingenuity and engineering prowess is in the Gemera, which has a 2.0L three cylinder, twin-sequential-turbocharged engine that produces an absolutely monstrous 600 HP while sipping fuel, supported by a 1,100 HP from three electric motors.

I bring up Koenigsegg for a specific reason, however, as the founder of that company has already unofficially termed the next rung up the ladder…

The Next Category: Megacar

Christian Von Koenigsegg, despite having a name perfect for a James Bond villain, is never satisfied with how much power his engines can produce. He is constantly and always bringing in the best minds, the top designers, the smartest engineers, to realize the vision of his current project. This is why some of the most intricate, strongest, yet lightest carbon fiber in any production car comes from Koenigsegg, as they have applied both skill and science to make their own weave.

It’s also why Koenigsegg engines can produce unbelievable numbers from just 8 or less cylinders, again by using immense skill and science. It’s actually because of science that Christian termed his latest project, the Jesko (formerly Project 500, for 500 KPH), as a megacar. His reasoning, and one that is actually quite well thought out, is that if running E85 biofuel, the 5.1L twin turbo V8 in the Jesko produces 1.2 megaWatts of power, or 1,600 HP.

Koenigsegg Jesko
The Koenigsegg Jesko, which helped define an entirely new category, the megacar. Image via SuperCars.

The term has also been retroactively applied to the Regera, as it also produced over 1,000 kW of power on E85 biofuel. In fact, after the C8 and the CCX, the first two Koenigsegg cars, every engine that has come out of the Swedish hypercar factory has been capable of running normal 91 octane gas and E85 biofuel. Every single car currently in production at Koenigsegg, which includes the Jesko, the Gemera, and Regera, are all megacars. The only one that doesn’t make it purely on engine alone is the Gemera with its tiny 3 cylinder engine making 600 HP, but the combined 1,700 HP with the hybrid system easily pushes it into the stratosphere.

The next wave of hypercars that are coming up are already pushing into the power needed to be termed as megacars, so we’ll just have to wait and see if the term catches on. I, for one, hope it does. It’s easy to quantify, it has a built in number to define it, and honestly, it does have a bit of an aura of extreme speed and power about it. The biggest buildings in the world are called megastructures, projects that require thousands of people and billions of dollars are called megaprojects, so a car that makes over 1 megaWatt of power should be, logically, a megacar.